No matter how much you love something, after a while you need to take a break from it. That is why, in an orchestra or other ensemble, most conductors will observe a short drink/restroom/stretch break halfway through a rehearsal longer than two hours. England is no exception.
I decided that while I was here that I wanted to find a place to play horn that was outside of the four walls of my tiny room, for while I love it, sometimes it can get a little tedious to always be playing by myself. I ended up finding two orchestras in the area to join, and it was in these orchestras that I felt my first real hit from culture shock.
The first orchestra is called the Brighton and Hove Concert Orchestra. Small, quaint, and amateur, it rehearses once a week in the basement of a tiny funeral chapel in the graveyard of a church, and is comprised of mostly older people who are just looking to have fun playing music. As such, the music for this orchestra is much lighter than what I am accustomed to, ranging from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty (if you aren’t a classical music fan and don’t think you know it, you do. It’s the same theme that is sung by the prince in the Disney movie—”I saw you; I walked with you once upon a dream…”) to Fiddler on the Roof highlights to an orchestral arrangement of “You are My Sunshine.” I’ve certainly come a long way from Wagner. Still, the people are friendly and there to have fun playing, and because I am, too, I don’t mind the music much. It’s great to get to know people, and the other horn player there is an older gentleman who spent his life playing piano and organ for his church (sound familiar?), so I thought that was cool. They observe the short break in the middle, but enhance our version of the break by making it a tea and coffee break, where there are a few people who stir up a batch of both for everyone to drink while talking. I found this interesting, as I noticed that the group as a whole was a lot friendlier and social with each other than groups I am normally in, as they all just stand around and talk for fifteen minutes each week over tea. I did not, however, find it shocking. It was the second orchestra group which brought the first wave of culture shock.
The second orchestra is the orchestra of the neighboring university to University of Brighton, where I attend. While it is mainly a student orchestra, they do allow for some community participation as space provides. I decided it would be worth inquiring into, as I would be able to play in a group, meet people my age, and possibly play some more challenging music. Lucky for me, they could use the extra horn player. So last night, I showed up to rehearsal early and excited for my first time there. The music was definitely heavier (Rachmaninoff 2 and Berlioz Roman Carnival for those who are interested), and I really enjoyed getting to meet other college age musicians. Again, everything there was very casual and informal, and the conductor introduced himself to me by first name, but I have gotten more used to this now, and didn’t think too much about it. Like normal, after an hour and a half of rehearsing, the conductor stopped, looked at his watch, and then said “Alright let’s take a twenty minute break. Stretch, use the loo, get a drink and be back here by 9:30.” And, like normal, everybody got up and started wandering around and leaving the rehearsal room. I stayed and got to know the girl horn player I was sitting next to, and before we knew it, the break was almost over and the first bits of wanderers were beginning to trickle back in.
That’s when I saw her. The blonde trombone player who sat four seats down walked in with a tall glass of beer filled right to the top and a bottle. I gasped internally, thinking “Is she really going to bring that in here? To rehearsal?” and in my head I could almost hear Dr. Hammer’s voice from back home lecturing on professionalism and focus and keeping “our mind and bodies in top playing condition.” But she was followed by another, and another, and another… and before I knew it I realized that literally everybody who had left the room was walking in with an alcoholic beverage. Some had full glasses, others were just finishing theirs on the way in, but whatever they had, nobody seemed to think twice about it. The horribly dorky band geek inside of me was cringing and crying as I watched the clarinet player in front of me take a drink, and then play on his instrument, thinking “What about your reed? Don’t you care about your reed?!” Drinking is huge here; I know that; I accept that; I don’t think much about it. But something about seeing it during a rehearsal just blew my mind. I was so shocked that I didn’t even know what I was feeling. Was this funny? Was this atrocious? Was this normal?
Even now, I’m having a slight difficulty comprehending the situation. In some ways, I’m greatly amused, not by the observed behavior, but by the fact that, of all the new and different things I’ve encountered while here, THIS was the one—drinking at rehearsal—that I was unable to get over. I guess this gives new meaning to the “20 minute drink break.”